For my niece Valerie, one of many animal lovers in the family, it was her birthday wish to celebrate at Parc Safari (also on the Circuit du Paysan, near Hemmingford, Quebec) The entire family loaded into the SUV for another slobber soaked expedition! Parc Safari is a cross between a safari and a zoo in that many of the animals roam freely within the parc but they are fed and cared for by the staff.
We went once before a few years ago and I wasn't sure how I felt about the experience. I have inner battles every time I visit these types of places, such as the Elephant Village refuge in luang-prabang on our trip to SoutEast Asia. On the one hand I absolutely enjoy being able to get that close to species; observing their behaviors, admiring their unique characteristics, and interacting. On the other hand, I am bothered by inner thoughts and questions about whether these animals are being well cared for, what quality of life they lead, and are they being exploited for human entertainment.
According to Parc Safari's mission statement their goal is to:
"Protect and preserve endangered species as well as educate our visitors about them, while creating a unique City of recreation, fun and environmental awareness for the whole family."
The Parc celebrated it's 40th anniversary this summer, and highlighted some of the many changes that have taken place since 1972 when the lions and tigers roamed free and the baboons had a blast ripping off visitors car antenna's.
The Parc now holds 500 plus animals of 75 different species. The Friends of Parc Safari Foundation was "founded in order to assure the durability of Parc Safari's zoological vocation.
The Friends of Parc Safari Foundation oversees all the zoological activities of Parc Safari since December 2002. The principal mandate of the Foundation is to renew the zoological infrastructures and to collaborate in the preservation of species that are threatened with extinction."
I am absolutely all for preserving animals from facing extinction, as some of these species are. And I can rationalise how feeding the grazing animals may be a good thing. Many will unhesitatingly come up to the cars for a nibble of carrot, apple, other vegetable or feed. Others are more leery and will only go for what is dropped or thrown to the ground.
These fiery haired favorites have nearly insatiable appetites and seem to love attention and petting.
The buffalo are less attention seeking, very few separate from the herds to seek food from the cars. Only a portion of the parc is now traversed by car, the other portion is traversed by foot, where one would find the bears, wolves, hyenas, lions, tigers, foxes, and primates .
The bears are apparently retired circus bears and you can see them still putting their disciplined skills on display, which might be amusing to some but rather heartbreaking in my opinion.
The big cats are fed large steaks of raw meat which are thrown at them from wardens. It is a pretty pathetic match of cat and mouse, they barely need to move a muscle to catch their prey. These are perhaps some of the saddest sights within the parc in my eyes. Such beautiful, regal creatures confined to meters versus the miles and miles they would enjoy in the wild. Then again, no poachers are allowed in Parc Safari!
The primates never cease to amaze me in their exhibit of behaviors so like our own, the way they communicate and nurture their young.
I captured these two bears looking at one another during their nap, then the one reached out and stroked the others arm and they stayed that way, touching fondly for several minutes. I'm sure all of these animals would display behaviors of affection, of pain, of societal structure if observed attentively enough.
Over twelve million people have visited Parc Safari over the years to experience moments like these. Millions of people all over the globe, of various cultures and beliefs, young and old, share a love, a fascination, or a curiosity of animals. I think it is part of our nature for most of us to try to protect and preserve animals. Many of us certainly protect and preserve our pets and have no doubt in our minds of their intelligence, of their ability to feel pain, of their complex personalities and relationships. The vast exception of this rule is for those poor unfortunate animals that are frequently found on our plates. October 1st is world vegetarian day, I urge every single person who buys meat and who eats meat, to take a hard look at what really happens from From-farm-to-fridge.